Suddenly the loud revving of a motorcycle can be heard from outside the Hollywood director’s office window. Sam Peckinpah smiles slyly at me and says, “Jeff, I think you ought to move your chair.“

I sit tight as Steve McQueen bursts into the office. “These guys are journalists,” announces Peckinpah.

In a flash, McQueen pulls out a knife and hurls it into the wall near my head. Without flinching, I respond, “Now I know why you wanted me to move my chair.”


One night in Kilometre 5, the police commissioner talks about the nuns and all the rape and slaughter that went on across the river after the Belgian Congo became independent. He is drunk, to be sure, but this gruff, seemingly heartless policeman, weeps after detailing the atrocities inflicted on white colonialists. It takes a few minutes for me to realize he is crying tears of joy. “Oh why,” he moans, “can’t it happen to the whites on this side of the river?”

I receive a discreet message from the police commissioner asking me to pay a visit. He meets me on the steps of the imperial police headquarters, saying it’s too dangerous to speak inside. “Mon ami, I can no longer protect you. You are an anarchist and a provocateur. If you stay any longer in the Empire, you will certainly die. And I have no intention of joining you.”

The night before we reach Mongoumba, I decide to make my move. It’s about two a.m. and there is a symphony of snores from the sleeping passengers on deck. The police agent is standing alone at the bow, gazing at the night sky.

I pull out my knife. I am no expert at killing but if I stab him in the neck and quickly push him overboard, with luck there’ll be a minimum of noise.

As I approach the police agent, I hear him faintly whistling a melody. It is a carefree whistle, the type of whistle when you’ve had one too many palm wines. As I move closer, ready to plunge the knife, I recognize the tune. It is “Vive l’Empereur,” the song I composed for Emperor Bokassa!

Startled, I hesitate, unconsciously lowering the knife. The police agent suddenly turns towards me, not knowing that “Vive l’Empereur” has saved his life.


I do my utmost to ignore the mounting paranoia and continue reporting. But my job is encumbered by lunatics from the mental ward of Mulago Hospital who stroll out the doors in the chaos of war.

The worst of the lot is Wazimu (Crazy) Elizabeth who focuses her schizophrenic attention on me. I first see her in the lobby of the Imperial Hotel, which is chock-full of journalists, soldiers, diplomats and government officials. She screams at the top of her lungs, “Idi Amin Dada, he fucked my mind!” Christ! The war is still on with Tanzania. Amin is being compared to Hitler. It is suicidal to say anything nice about him. And there’s Elizabeth, barefoot, head shaven like darkest Africa’s version of a Charlie Manson groupie, shouting in the middle of the lobby, “Idi Amin has a twenty-five pound penis! I know because he fucked me and I liked it!”


On Arcatao’s cobblestoned main street, I bump into an old peasant who is drunk out of his skull on Tic Tac, the local sugar cane rotgut. “I’m a Pipil [Indian],” he shouts. “A Pipil!”

“Aha,” I think. “Maybe this old codger is soused enough to tell me the truth.”

“Say, old man. “Just between us, whose side are you on — the army’s or the guerrillas?”

“Whoever takes the biggest shit, chelito [little white man],” he replies.


Harmon: Tell me how you torture them.

Fernando(head of a right-wing death squad): Blowtorches in the armpits, electric shocks in the balls. There are many kinds of people involved in guerrilla warfare. There are the toughest ones, the tough ones and the weak ones. The weak ones we just tell them that we’re gonna kill them and they speak. The tough ones we have to beat them a little bit, then they speak. But the toughest ones, we have to pop their eyes with a spoon.

Harmon: Pop their eyes with a spoon? How do you do that?

Fernando: You slide the spoon in the eye and then the eye pops out of its orbit. That’s it.”

Harmon: What happens to the people you do that to?

Fernando: Well, you have to film it to believe it. Usually they start screaming, they start yelling. Since they are tied to a chair or table, they just bounce their heads around when you pop their eyes. But boy, they sure sing. They sing loud, believe me.


Some edicts are simply ignored. Homosexuality, which is taboo in the Koran, is rampant in Kandahar, the future home of the Taliban. Even bestiality is sometimes practiced. While traveling on the back of a truck in Kandahar Province, I asked one of Haji Latif’s teen warriors if he’d ever had sex with an animal. A humorless lad, he answered without irony, “Yes, one goat and five chickens.”

“How were the chickens?” I inquired.

“One good, four not so hot,” he replied.

The next morning, I have breakfast at the front. As I drink my tea, bullets fly over my head. The mujahideen hit the ground. I continue to sip my tea. I suddenly realize that this is not courage but sheer stupidity. For the first time in combat, I seriously re-think my attraction to war. I’ve become so blasé that I’m begging to be killed.


As my chicken salad sandwich arrives, Chuck, the CIA liaison, is at his hostile best. “You had better understand if this operation goes through, it’s a cutout op. The CIA and DIA have nothing officially to do with it. If anything goes wrong, you’re strictly on your own. There’s not a fucking thing we’ll do to help you. And if you open your mouth, we’ll deny any knowledge. Also, if we find out that you’re using this operation to smuggle drugs, we’ll literally have you drawn and quartered. Am I making myself clear?”


I spend the weekend at Dimitri’s house. He has come down with the flu and is in bed Sunday morning. As his two-year-old and four-year-old daughters playfully climb over his naked belly, Dimitri casually discusses a potential hit on Tanzania’s President Nyerere. “I’m not sure if I want to take the contract,” he mutters over his little girls’ giggly horseplay. “Not enough money for the bother.”


Johnny has killed people in myriad ways. “I’ve shot them, cut their throats, thrown them out of windows, set them on fire, garroted them. I once disembowled a Yakusa [Japanese Mafia] ‘cause in that particular culture it’s a wimp’s way to die. Nobody I’ve ever killed didn’t deserve to die. If they justified my intentions, they have been greedy bastards. Killing is not an emotional thing. It’s just something you do. I’d be more upset about shooting a dog.”

Back in New York, I meet up with Johnny in his apartment. He opens the door, pale as a ghost. His hand is trembling as we sit down in front of his glass coffee table. Johnny picks up his Beretta, his weapon of choice, from the coffee table to clean it. His hand is shaking so violently that he accidentally pulls the trigger, shattering the glass table.

“What the fuck’s wrong?” I ask.

“I had to blow away a guy on a staircase this afternoon during a collection job. This spic delivery boy came around the corner out of nowhere. I was unprepared. Out of reflex, I shot him. It was unexpected. What I call spontaneous.

“It happened less than an hour ago. It takes me four or five hours to clear my mind when something goes wrong. With a planned hit, you know exactly what’s going down. Unless something goes wrong, you got nothing to worry about. Unexpected, like today, there’s all sorts of things you’ve got to worry about, like did I pick up all the shells?”


It is bowling night in Bella Vista. With the twenty or so farmers deep in their brew, “Heil Hitler!” begins to ring through the clubhouse. The conversation settles into a seemingly familiar weekly pattern. “Ah, if only the Führer were alive today.” . . . “All this Holocaust business is propaganda of the Jews. Only a few thousand were killed.”

“By the way,” I ask an old Nazi, “wasn’t Dr. Mengele a member of your bowling club?”
Ja, ja. Mengele used to bowl with us.”
“Does he ever come to visit?”
“Oh no, Dr. Mengele doesn’t live here anymore.”


In one move, I jump off the bed, grab Danilo by the throat and hurl him onto the floor of the adjoining bathroom. With all my strength, I strangle him until his face turns blue. I have every intention of killing him, but at the critical moment I release my grip. I come to my senses and realize that murdering Danilo is not worth spending twenty years in prison.

I have absorbed the violence I’ve witnessed in war. It is lurking just beneath the surface.


I keep it succinct, telling my father, I’m going off to war and the money is vital for my survival. He will get the loan back in six weeks. Larry says he can’t loan me the money because he has to, “pay the water and power bill.” Then, without missing a beat, he says, “I’d like to take a life insurance policy out on you for a million dollars.”

I feel like I just fell through a trap door. I stare at him and let him blabber away. The urgency of catching the flight to Toledo disappears as Larry outlines his plan: “Since you’re always running off to war it makes sense to get a policy. I will pay for the policy, so naturally I’ll be the owner and sole beneficiary.” Susan, his fourth wife, exaggeratedly nods her head in agreement.

I feel the anger rising, but I betray no emotion, just to see how far he will go. “But dad,” I ask, “if you can’t afford to loan me three thousand dollars, how can you afford the premium on a million dollar policy?”

He replies, “Susan used to work in the insurance business, so we can get a discount.”

I look him dead in the eye and say, “Nobody is going to gamble on me getting killed.”

Larry jumps off the couch and screams, “You owe me!”

I jump off the other couch and head for the door. I have an uncontrollable urge to hurl Bozo and Mommy Cunt Number Four through the plate glass window of the sixteenth floor.